Plenty of cash spending, mud slinging gives way to Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards' historic win over David Vitter _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- John Bel Edwards second lines through the crowd at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, La. Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.

Conventional wisdom said not to read much into the governor’s race because it matched a DINO against a Republican hardly anyone could stand.

Only in these aberrant circumstances could the GOP lose a statewide race in Louisiana.

When Republican bigwigs announced their endorsement of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, they were obliged to stress that this was not a personality contest, on account of he could never win one. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a losing contender in the Republican primary, thought Vitter such a jerk that he up and declared his support for the Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards.

It came as no great shock when, as soon as he won the election, Edwards named Dardenne as top man in his administration, because it is axiomatic that party labels means less in Louisiana than they do elsewhere. Certainly, our Democrats tend not to be rabid leftists bent on the redistribution of wealth and can be hard to tell apart from Republicans. Thus, Edwards throughout the campaign, for instance, stressed that he was pro-life and pro-guns, and not even Democrats saw any contradiction in that.

But the axiom may not hold up, after all. Though the online wisenheimers freely labeled Edwards a Democrat in Name Only, it makes no nevermind what a state politician thinks about abortion or the Second Amendment, and it is already apparent that he is, otherwise, the polar opposite to outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal.

His record in the Legislature, and his pronouncements on the campaign trail, pointed to a new course. Sure enough, not only does he propose to restore probity to fiscal policy, but he is already intent on a diametrically different approach, for instance, to charter schools, vouchers, tort reform and public health.

During the campaign, Edwards even questioned whether Louisiana needed or could afford to remain the world leader in incarceration rates. Given that he comes from a long line of country sheriffs, whose bread and butter is locking citizens up, this seemed proof enough that Edwards did not think like a Republican.

Vitter alleged that Edwards was proposing to let thousands of thugs loose on the streets, which would have been an odd tactic for a gubernatorial candidate, and voters, presumably weary of being taken for idiots, didn’t bite. The proposition that we lock up far too many minor and nonviolent offenders is beyond rational dispute.

Penology will not be high on the agenda, however, and all issues pale into insignificance compared to the budget mess that Jindal is bequeathing. Once that is sorted out, a new era beckons, most obviously when some 240,000 numbers of the uninsured are granted Medicaid coverage. Jindal refused to accept the federal money that will fuel that expansion, arguing that the state match would be too burdensome down the road. Such wonkish reasoning may not prove that Jindal is heartless, but, if he were distressed by the plight of constituents too poor for decent care, he never let on.

Edwards, by contrast, has always declared spreading the Medicaid net to be one of his top priorities. So, he’s no DINO on that score.

Edwards has said he wants state Superintendent of Education John White gone, although he will need all the powers of persuasion that come with his office if the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is to oblige with a pink slip. Edwards, being no great fan of charter schools or vouchers, enjoys the support of the teacher unions but says he does not propose to bring back the local government monopolies of the bad old days. He does, however, plan to put a brake on the creation of charters and ensure vouchers are used more sparingly.

Vouchers have, indeed, been a mixed blessing, for what has been trumpeted as a triumph for freedom of choice sometimes means public subsidies for religious schools with abysmal academic standards. One of them, Light City in New Orleans, is a K-12 school with a mere 69 students and would not be in business but for vouchers. Only five of its students have their fees paid privately.

Test scores are so poor that Light City has been banned from receiving any more vouchers next year but is free to keep the ones it has. Taxpayers are clearly being taking for a ride at this and several other crummy voucher schools.

Edwards also brings a fresh perspective to tort reform, evidently being unconvinced that businesses give Louisiana the cold shoulder because they believe our courts love showering money on greedy plaintiff attorneys and their undeserving clients. We are forever being told that business will go elsewhere if we don’t do its bidding, and the threat is going thin. It didn’t keep us from electing a Democrat and, apparently, a real one at that.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.